After the year we’ve all had, social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom is more important than ever. SEL helps children cope with difficult emotions and have more empathy for their peers.
In this guide, we’ll go over the best SEL strategies that elementary teachers can use in the new school year to make sure their students thrive not just academically, but psychologically as well.
7 Simple SEL Strategies for Teachers
Whether you’re new to teaching SEL to elementary students or you’re just looking to refresh your repertoire of activities, we’ve got you covered.
Here are 7 easy SEL strategies that elementary school teachers can use every day to help their students thrive.
Morning feeling check-ins
Many teachers already do a morning check-in with their students as they start the school day. Incorporate SEL skills into your morning check-ins by asking your students to identify their emotions.
Emotions identification can help young students with mindfulness and self-identity. Use this opportunity to expand your students’ emotional vocabulary past “happy,” “sad,” and “mad.” Are they feeling joyful? Silly? Annoyed or disappointed?
Identifying the full range of emotional experience is the first step to being able to manage painful feelings. This SEL activity can help your students get into the habit of stopping and naming their powerful feelings when they experience them.
Gratitude is a positive psychology practice that can easily be incorporated into your SEL curriculum. Practicing gratitude has been found to help people cope with stress and improve their emotional well-being. The end of the school day can be a great opportunity to invite your elementary students to practice this important SEL skill.
Ask guided questions that make the concept of gratitude easier to understand for elementary students. Some questions you can use are:
- What was the best thing that happened to you today?
- Who is someone you love?
- What made you smile/laugh today?
- What was your favorite thing we did at school today?
- Who do you wish you could say “thank you” to, and why?
Setting long-term goals isn’t something we usually think of when we think about elementary-level SEL skills. But setting goals isn’t just a skill that should be taught to high school students; elementary-aged children can benefit, too.
Help your students set goals and check in on them periodically. Don’t think too long-term when setting goals with young children 一 for example, asking children what job they want to have when they’re adults is a wonderful exercise to build dreams, but may not be realistic as attainable long-term goals.
Instead, think ahead to the end of the month or the semester. Help your students set goals that are specific, measurable, and realistic. For example, maybe one student wants to learn all their times tables by a certain date. Perhaps another can set a goal to go for one week without getting out of their seat without permission. Be as specific as possible and set your kids up for success.
Don’t forget to periodically check in on your students’ goals 一 don’t just help them set goals and walk away. Especially for younger children, constant reminders that they’re towards a goal will keep them more motivated. Visual representation of their progress - a classic example being a sticker chart - may be helpful for elementary-aged students as well.
For SEL skills to be transformative, they must go beyond the time spent teaching the lesson. Kids learn by watching adults. Model SEL skills like empathy and kindness even when you’re not actively teaching an SEL lesson.
You can model kindness in the way you talk to and behave towards both your students and other teachers. Do your best not to talk down to students, no matter how young they are. Model how to listen and respond mindfully when a student is talking to you. Practice active listening, and reward empathy and kindness when you see it.
Journaling has been found to have many benefits for mental health, including decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even elementary-aged students can benefit from journaling and become more self-aware through inner exploration.
Every week, ask your students to write about themselves and their lives. Younger kids who can’t yet write to express themselves can draw pictures. For elementary school students, it may be helpful to give specific prompts rather than asking them to free-journal. Choose prompts that encourage them to explore their inner worlds. For example:
- Who is your best friend, and why?
- How do you feel today, and what made you feel that way?
- Who is someone you look up to, and why do you look up to them?
Empathy, or the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, is one of the core components of SEL. Teaching kids empathy can lead to less bullying, stronger relationships, and more emotional safety within the classroom. Empathetic kids also grow up to become empathetic adults and leaders 一 and that’s a positive thing for both your students’ and the world’s futures.
To teach kids empathy, start by setting an example. Modeling positive social behaviors, as we discussed earlier, is one of the best ways to demonstrate SEL skills in your classroom. You can also use media, like films and books, to teach empathy 一 ask your students to identify how characters feel and what their internal experience may be like. Mindfulness is another great way to encourage empathy; when kids slow down and pay attention, they’re more likely to pick up on what they themselves and others are feeling.
Teach emotion management
Most people associate emotional turbulence with adolescence. But just because your students are younger doesn’t mean they don’t have difficult emotions. Children experience many painful feelings, from stress and anxiety to grief and sadness. Get a head start on teaching children how to manage these emotions in healthy ways.
SEL strategies for elementary school students can (and should) incorporate what are called self-regulation techniques. These are any kind of skills that kids can use to cope with challenging emotions and calm themselves down. There are many self-regulation skills to choose from, including breathing exercises and mindfulness skills.
Calm Classroom’s mindfulness-based activities can be easily incorporated into your elementary SEL curriculum. To learn more, get in touch with us today.